South Eastern Bay of Thailand boasts a cluster of spectacular islands perfect for diving, three of which are inhabited: the largest and most famous Koh Samui has a small and beautifully formed international airport. It is about an hour’s flight from either Bangkok or Singapore and is usually the first and last port of call for many; the tiny Koh Tao, the Turtle Island (Koh means an island and Tao – turtle in Thai language), barely two miles across and surrounded by some of the most spectacular diving sites in the world and then sitting in the middle, like a perfect blend of the two is the magical Koh Phangan.
1.Ferry leaving Thong Sala on Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan is a 30 minutes ferry ride from the northern coast of Samui but might as well be in another time zone – locals like to say it is much like it’s bigger sister island was 25 years ago: a quieter, unspoiled tropical paradise. The quieter pace is reflected not only in miles of pristine beaches and considerably lower cost of life compared to Samui, but also in the attitude of locals – Thais and the thriving Farang (Thai for a foreigner) community are more than welcoming towards travellers be they on a gap year, two week family holiday or intending to stay and make a go of life here as many have done already.
2. Haad Rin Pier looking at Samui
The island is (in) famous throughout the world for its Full Moon parties dating back to 1985 and a very different world. Today thousands descend on Phangan for the monthly mayhem on Haad Rin beach at South Western tip facing Samui, it is a rite of passage for many travellers regardless of creed and age and quite a few bring kids, presumably to show them how it all started 🙂 – Full Moon has also spawned a host of others: Jungle Moon, Shiva Moon, Dark Moon, Waterfall – the famous Sramanora, all heaving with neon painted bodies and deep beats, many of whom choose to stay for much longer than just a weekend or a month.
3. Full Moon in full swing
One morning whilst driving to a dive we picked up a fairly dishevelled pair in Haad Yao: they have walked best part of the night from Haad Rin (about 20 hilly kilometres!). She had stepped of a ferry straight into the Full Moon party and promptly lost all her valuables and he – a Farang islander, stepped in to help her get to the accommodation she had booked and could only vaguely remember the name of. We dropped them of in Haad Salad and they looked happy enough….maybe they are still there.
4. Hilly Road Haad Yao – Haad Rin
But Phangan is so much more than just the parties – the nature was more than generous towards a blob in the ocean measuring some 25-30km across. Lush tropical forest covers island’s many peaks, highest one of which is a respectable 600+ metres mountain top offering trekking opportunities to the hardy, waterfalls and tiny lakes abound, especially in the rainy season, beaches range from hidden alcoves such as the beautiful Bottle Beach in the North reachable only by trekking or a long tail taxi boat, to the peaceful white expanses of the West and South. It is a true activity playground offering a massive slip’n’slide, zip lines and jungle canopy walks and a water park on the fresh water Laem Son lake all in a spectacular tropical setting.
5. Bottle Beach
6. View Point above Baan Thai
The island, like most of Thailand is very environmentally conscious and this is best experienced on the West coast and particularly in the yoga haven that is the pretty little village of Sritthanu – numerous vegetarian and vegan cafes, shops and restaurant probably make this tiny community an epicentre of healthy, conscious living in the region.
7. Things to do….
And above all Koh Phangan has Sail Rock or Hin Bai, listed by PADI as one of the best diving sites in Thailand : https://www.padi.com/scuba-vacations/thailand
8. Preparing to dive off the beach at Mae Haad
Sail Rock is about an hour on a dive boat from Chaloklum, a quaint fishing village on the North of Phangan. It lies almost half way to Koh Tao, a solitary visible peak of the large under ocean massive offering diving depth of up to 45m and accessible to all levels – and this where whale sharks come to play. In December there was a solitary one hanging around the rock for days and looked like it really enjoyed the company of divers:
The site itself is fantastic: famous for its natural chimney which begins at 18 meters and ascends to about 6m, making it an ideal entry/exit point it now also boasts the cubes: a pile of concrete structures purposefully constructed and deposited at the bottom as an additional marine habitat and also an excellent swim through at 30-32m depth.
9. The Cubes
Sail Rock is a transient home to huge schools of fish from bright yellow Fusiliers to silver Barracudas and a more permanent one to the likes of box fish, blue spotted sting rays, large groupers, and my personal favourite Batfish together with their faithful groomers, the tireless little Wrasse
10. Barracudas at Sail Rock
Dive boats start arriving around 9am and it can get busy but much less so than neighbouring Koh Tao – it is a heaving cornucopia of happy marine life and even the Trigger fish are mild mannered.
11. Whale Shark Day with Masha and Ris
12. Back to Chaloklum with the Reefers
Over the years we dived with many of the excellent centres in and around Haad Yao and Chaloklum areas – http://www.reefersdiving.com/, http://www.bluehorizonphangan.com/, http://haadyaodivers.com/en/index.php, http://sailrockdiversresort.com/ each very individual and with a great crew of people some of which have lived on the island for over a decade and have stories to tell of both in and out of water adventures.
13. Marine Park trip with Sail Rock Divers
14. Haad Yao Sunset
Koh Phangan – diving and a little bit of magic for everyone.